Vinyl: All The Way Live (2004)
When a band can gather guests like organist Bernie Worrell, blues great Sugar Pie DeSanto, Son of Champlin Terry Haggerty, and bassist Rob Wasserman for a live album, it's usually worth a spin or two to see what all this high-powered talent sees in it. Vinyl, hailing from the San Francisco Bay region, play the entire African diaspora of musical styles: pulsing reggae one minute, greasy soul the next, with room in between for juke blues, Fela funk and anything else with seductive drums. All The Way Live is a pleasant distillation of their oeuvre, recorded over two nights at the legendary Great American Music Hall in SF. In addition to the guest talent already listed there's Huey Lewis, local reggae comer Jethro Jeremiah, Cochemea Gastelum (Robert Walter's 20th Congress) and more. One imagines the stage sagging under the weight of Vinyl's existing eight members plus this entourage.
So, what do all these people hear in them? There's an undeniable ease to everything here. They make all the gear switching and funky drummerisms wink and swerve. Slotting in with such a band is like sinking into a hot tub with sore muscles. It just feels good. They also have a great instinct for obscure, kickin' covers. The set opens with the Daktari's "Lasiti," which any modern DJ worth their salt will tell you is da' bomb diggity. Other fine picks include Neal Creque's "Sofrito," Parliament's "Moonshine Heather" (with an especially on Worrell), DeSanto's glove-like fit on Bill Davis' "In The Basement" and a smokin' rendition of Johnny Osbourne's "Truth & Rights" with shining vocals from Jeremiah.
What isn't quite as impressive are the band's originals, which tend towards an overt polish, tasteful stuff that's missing much rawness. A terribly misguided attempt at rap on "Wax" is the unquestionable low point here. Most successful are their Fania-flavored Latin pieces like "Mas Cebollas," which stands up with quality Eddie Palmieri material. One constant is the electrifying guitar of Billy Frates, a prickly presence in the group's very smooth landscape. None of this is to say Vinyl can't play. These guys are consummate pros with chops to spare, but unlike say Galactic, who've sharpened their compositions to match their instrumental prowess, Vinyl feels a little too comfortable at being good at what they do.
Disc one is a consistent pleasureone interesting, hotly played joint after anotherbut things stall out a bit in the first half of disc two and only get restarted on their take of Sonny Phillips' acid jazz classic "Sure 'Nuff Sure 'Nuff," enlivened by hard, spanking sax from Gastelum and incisively soulful guitar from Haggerty. If Vinyl can shake some of its GRP label malaise and perhaps discover the same polyethnic diversity of early Santana or War, then I think a lot more ears will prick up. These guys have a lot to offer, and this live collection is their best foot forward yet. I just think there might be a better shoe to drop lurking somewhere inside this band.
Track Listing: Disc One: Lasiti, M
Personnel: Billy Frates - Guitar, Geoff Vaughan - Bass, Johnny Durkin - Congas / Timbales, Jonathan Korty - Hammond Organ / Keys / Harp, Alexis Razon - Drums, Danny Cao - Trumpet and Doug Thomas - Saxophone / Flute. Guests include Huey Lewis - harmonica, Bernie Worrell - Hammond organ, Rob Wasserman - 6-string upright electric bass, Sugar Pie DeSanto - vocals, Terry Haggerty - guitar, Andy Geib - trombone, Felonious M.C. Soulati - vocals, Jethro Jeremiah - vocals, Mingo Lewis Jr. - Timbales, Michael "Riz" Rizman -vibraphone and Cochema Gastelum - tenor sax